Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A time for calm heads

Paul McLaughlin, BESA Chief Executive

Theresa May’s appointment as Prime Minister promises a period of calm as we recover from the storm of the ‘Brexit’ vote. However, there isn’t much breathing space as businesses need reassurance that the economy is robust and can bounce back from the shock.  

The building engineering services sector has a key role to play in ensuring the economy moves forward. Making buildings perform better is no less crucial simply because we are going through the most turbulent political process of modern times – arguably it is more crucial than ever.

And, while we know the new PM and her cabinet will be rather busy over the next few weeks, there are some key political decisions that need to be made sooner rather than later:

For example, the government should quickly restate its commitment to the infrastructure programme it was setting so much stall by before the Referendum. Delaying decisions on Heathrow, HS2 and Hinkley Point do not send out the right message.

We also have just as big a housing shortage after June 23rd as we had before it.

If we are not pushing ahead on the same basis –then we need to know and we need to know quickly. If Hinkley Point is to be pulled then we need to know and we need to start looking at the alternatives. Do we go further and faster on renewables? Does the Brexit administration have a plan for incentivising energy efficiency? There is a new £320m development budget for low carbon heat networks – could that be expanded and speeded up? Are will still planning to install 6.8 million heat pumps in homes by 2030?

We don’t necessarily need highly detailed responses at this early stage, but we do need statements of intent and clear commitment because construction and all of its related areas could play a critical part in keeping the economy strong during this period of uncertainty.

Also, what is the long-term status of EU workers in the UK? It is not acceptable to use this as a bargaining chip ahead of potentially protracted negotiations. Many UK businesses depend on the skills of migrant labour and need to be able to plan for the future. We already have a skills shortage and making that more acute would put all of the government’s engineering-based targets in doubt.

We are also on the cusp of a revolution in the way apprenticeships are funded and organised with the launch of the new Apprenticeship Levy and development of the new ‘Trailblazers’. Again with the skills shortage in mind, this needs to be supported, promoted and gold plated to ensure we start the flow of new blood into the technical professions.

All of these issues are concerns, but equally they are business opportunities at a time when the government is looking for areas where the country can expand output and step up productivity.

With a couple of key, strategic decisions, our industry can help the government steady the economic ship.

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